Olivier Maloney, Grade 9
It had not known what was past the endless plane ahead of it. It had not known whether it wanted to keep going. It had, however, felt like it needed to keep going. For days it kept moving forward, neither hungry nor thirsty. Finally, it came to a cliff. This cliff felt both similar and alien. It had been here before but everything had been different. The sky had been blue, the grass green, and the people dancing. All that remained were corpses resting on the ashes under the crimson sky. It had memories of this place but not of when or why it had been here. It didn’t have time to question any of this. Only one goal existed: keep going. Under the cliff sat the remains of a town. It… It remembered.
Conleth had been used to the warmth of fire since a young age. His father was priest of the village just like his grandfather and great-grandfather. Conleth did not know how far back his family’s connection went with the church of Pyra. Conleth understood everything about flames and the Eternal Flame from his daily studies with his father. Every morning Conleth would run off into the woods and play in the river until his dad came to scold him. The flame did not interest Conleth, but he had to learn his father’s profession since it would one day pass on to him. But the village was gone. It felt like just yesterday he was tending the Great Flame with his father.
Filled with fear, he started to run.
He walked down the nearby path that entered the village, shaking with each step. As he was about to enter the village, he spotted something on the ground, a skeleton. Filled with fear, he started to run. Pain. A sharp pain echoed throughout his body. He took another step away from the village. The pain became even worse. Another step, more pain. Conleth could not take the pain anymore, collapsing from exhaustion. He did not understand why he was stuck, why his village was burnt, or how he had gotten here. Conleth could not admit it, but he knew that the only way to move forward would be to enter the village. Conleth tried to leave one more time. Instead of the feeling unbearable pain from before, he remembered something.
Many years ago Conleth was in the church, probably for the first time, his mother holding him in her arms. His father was there too but he was standing by the flame instead, with a figure in his arms, Conleth’s sister. Conleth watched as his father wrapped her in a cloth and threw her into the flames, her scream echoing throughout the building. The last thing Conleth heard was another voice whispering, “Seal the other child,” as his father walked up to him, hands covered in blood.
Voices were calling out to him.
Conleth was exhausted from the unbearable pain and anguish he had experienced, to the point where he could not produce tears. The only emotions left were anger and determination fueled by his need to know what happened. If Pyra were real, then she was not benevolent but instead sadistic and cruel. He turned around, skeletons still surrounding him, and started to walk back toward the village. Something felt different on the way back to the village, like voices were calling out to him.
When Conleth finally arrived at the entrance to the village he noticed a strange light where the church used to be. As he walked closer, he noticed how little remained of the buildings. The only part left of the buildings was burnt wood, even the stone turned to ashes. Whatever fire burned his village, it certainly was not normal. The nearby light glowed even brighter now. Stepping over the rubble, Conleth found the light coming from a flame. The light was not just from a flame, but from the Flame. The Flame should have been dying out with no one here to worship it but somehow it was even brighter.
The Flame drew Conleth closer to the point where he should be burning. Instead, he felt warm and protected as he always had before when sitting by a flame. Conleth came to his senses, jumping away from the Flame. His hands should have been burnt off, but he could still feel them. He looked down to see fire enveloping his arms, fear spreading throughout his body. Although terrified, he was not completely surprised as he had felt strange for a while now. Still, whatever was happening paralyzed him. As Conleth was about to sit down in the rubble to examine himself, he heard a high-pitched voice saying something. Looking for the voice, Conleth noticed a small opening in the ground where a trapdoor used to be. The trapdoor looked like it was decades, maybe even centuries, of years old. Additionally, it brandished the seal of the church, the fiery face of Pyra, filled with both benevolence and anger. Completely forgetting his current dilemma, Conleth opened the trapdoor and jumped down the hole into the darkness below.
The room lit up as Conleth landed on the ground, reminding him of his flaming body. Among the many books scattered across the floor, there were also strange symbols on the walls and a pedestal in the center of the room. At the back of the room sat a desk with nothing but a few pieces of paper on it. After taking in his surroundings, Conleth walked to the desk to check the papers. He wanted to find whatever he was looking for and leave as quickly as possible. The first paper he checked was covered in strange symbols, but the most concerning part was the church seal at the bottom. The seal was littered all over the church, but a seal could almost never be found on a piece of paper. Only Conleth’s father had been allowed to use the stamp. Before, Conleth had some doubts about his father, but now he knew there was something else that had been happening down here.
After looking through many papers like the first, Conleth started to look through the desk’s cabinets. He opened them one by one, most of them being empty. However, the last cabinet contained a mirror. At first there was nothing strange about the mirror but looking into it once again reminded Conleth of his flaming body. The flames were so thick that they completely covered his face. He could not even see his own eye color, much less remember it. He did remember one thing though, his sister’s sky-blue eyes clouded with darkness on the edges. Suddenly, the mirror’s image switched to a blurry figure standing in a fire, hands close together, almost as if praying.
He tried even harder to stop moving, but it made no difference.
The same voice from earlier startled Conleth, the image disappearing as he turned around. “Come to me,” the child-like voice echoed throughout the room. Conleth’s body started moving away from the desk uncontrollably. He desperately tried to stop himself, but it was like something else was in his body. Each step Conleth tried going slower, but he only sped up. He then realized where the voice was taking him, the pedestal. He tried even harder to stop moving, but it made no difference. Something did happen though. Conleth realized that the flames moved when he tried to move his body. He tried reaching out his hand, but the flame moved forward instead. He still felt trapped but at least he might be able to affect his fate.
Conleth violently flailed his arms, trying to do anything in the almost empty room. At first he felt like there was no effect, but he did not realize the fire from his body spreading across the books on the floor. He eventually noticed the fire when it started to burn the bookshelves and desk. However, the fire did not matter anymore as Conleth’s body stopped to put its arm on the pedestal. The voice from earlier started laughing, emitting an innocent childish joy. Conleth could not feel anything, but he saw his body fall to the floor. Conleth was now just an entity of flames, but his attention was first drawn to his corpse on the ground, the blue eyes no longer covered by fire. As Conleth stared deeply into his own eyes, the fire he had started continued to spread across the room.
Conleth’s body spoke using the same high-pitched voice from earlier, “Are you here, Pyra?” This call to Pyra confused Conleth as he had never heard of this voice before even though he had been at the church constantly. The confusion Conleth felt enflamed both his anger and the fire around him even further. Conleth came to a realization, the realization that his emotions were linked to the fire that was now his body. However, instead of taking advantage and controlling his emotions, he just became angrier.
The body on the floor, now standing up, screamed, “Give me my sister back.” The flames around them stopped spreading and slowly receded toward Conleth.
Conleth spoke quietly, almost whispering, “What happened to your sister?”
I know she is still alive.
The room became quiet until the body finally responded, “Somebody in a cloak visited the church. While everyone was looking away, he threw her into a pile of wood and set it on fire. Before anyone could react, the person left town. I know she is still alive though. Pyra’s necklace should have survived the fire, but it was not there. She must have escaped.” Conleth had so many questions. He had never heard of someone being burned in the town, nor had he heard of anyone being named Pyra. The church saw naming someone Pyra offensive to the church and devaluing the name of a god. If this were to happen, the person would likely be exiled from the church and town, if not worse. What the body spoke of might also be related to Conleth’s sister, and if the body’s sister survived then Conleth’s sister might too.
Before Conleth had a chance to respond, the body burst into flames, disintegrating into ashes almost immediately. Instead of getting answers, all Conleth had were more questions. Although irritated, Conleth took in his surroundings. He noticed the pedestal was still in the center of the room, but everything else that had been around him, including the desk and bookshelves, was no longer there. Under one of the countless piles of ashes surrounding him, Conleth saw something shining. Conleth tried to grab the shining object out of the ashes, but he had no hands, only fire. As he started to become frustrated, the object in the ashes started shining brightly. After a moment of being blinded, Conleth saw the mirror from earlier rise into the air. The entire room seemed to grow brighter as the mirror came toward Conleth and entered the flame that was Conleth’s body. The world slowed , countless identifiable voices trying to speak over each other in his head. Everything went dark.
A man turned around, possibly in his 30s, but the beard covering his face made him look much older. There seemed to be nothing except the man within the darkness. “You finally decided to show up. As the future priest, you should know it does not reflect well on you to keep people waiting.” Conleth wanted to respond but something was stopping him. “Listen carefully because I only have time to say this once. If you want to find out what happened to your sister and the village, travel to the capital. Once you get there, find your way to the center of the city, the Royal Flame.” Without a moment to think, the room vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
Conleth woke on a hill opposite to the one he entered the village from earlier, the morning sun shining. The plains ahead of Conleth were full of life instead of ash and corpses. Conleth tried to remember the man’s words, but the memories were vague. While Conleth tried to recall what the man had said he noticed a few rocks that could be the outline of a path. “The capital.” Maybe this path would lead Conleth toward the capital. Conleth spoke as he started walking, leaving the village and its corpses behind, “Pyra be with me.”